After nearly 10 consecutive years of massive bee deaths, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finally issued a moratorium, restricting the use of systemic pesticides, known as neonicotinoids, responsible for declining bee populations.
The policy, mind you, does not apply to products currently on the market. Meaning, if it’s already been approved and on the shelves, it can continue to be sold.
“We’re pleased to see EPA finally admit that the agency lacks sufficient information to assess whether bees and other pollinators will be harmed uses of these chemicals,” says Larissa Walker Center for Food Safety Pollinator Campaign Director, Policy Analyst . “It’s certainly a step in the right direction. However, there are dozens of neonicotinoid uses already approved for outdoor use, and until EPA acts under FIFRA to suspend those current uses, too, bee and other pollinator populations are still in jeopardy of suffering detrimental effects.”
Neonicotinoids are nicotine-based neurotoxins that can attack the bee’s central nervous system and weakens the bee’s immune system, resulting in paralysis or death. The bees take the poisons back in the form of pollen and nectar (since it’s becomes part of the plant) and store it as food in their cells, affecting future generations. The pesticides are also known to have chronic effects on birds, butterflies, other pollinator species, and have been detected in Midwest rivers. They’ve also been associated with Parkinson’s Disease.
The French learned the truth back in the mid 1990s and filed suit. Eventually the government in France placed a ban on certain neonics, and then the European Union followed suit. In 2013, the E.U placed a temporary moratorium on three systemic pesticides. Until last Thursday, the U.S. was still weighing options.
On April 2nd, 2015, the agency sent letters sent to companies that apply pesticides outdoors, warning them of “unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.”
“EPA believes that until the data on pollinator health have been received and appropriate risk assessments completed, it is unlikely to be in a position to determine that such uses would avoid “unreasonable adverse effects on the environment,” as required by federal environmental regulations, the agency wrote in its April 2 letter to registered users.”
Whether these “pollinator risk assessments” are actually going to take neonicotinoids off farms is questionable. EPA has been known to buy time and make PR stunts before. According to an article in the National Review, the EPA “has a sordid history of incompetence, duplicity, and pandering to the most extreme factions of the environmental movement…”
Bee the Change
“Both the EPA and the chemical companies will try to wring as much mileage out of this announcement as they can, but the reality is that this is just more meaningless posturing by the EPA in an attempt to cover their tracks,” says beekeeper and activist Tom Theobald. “Drop a slice of bacon here and there to throw the bloodhounds off the trail, just one more part of the Kabuki dance they are engaged in with the chemical industry.”
Some local communities are spearheading actual progress. Portland, Oregon just banned the use of products that contain neonicotinoids. Portland joins about eight other U.S. municipalities, including Seattle and Spokane in neighboring Washington state, to ban neonics. Meanwhile, the Fish and Wildlife is also banning neonicotinoids from protected lands.
Actual restrictions should be EPA’s focus as well.
Maryam Henein is an investigative journalist, professional researcher, and producer of the award-winning documentary Vanishing of the Bees.
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